I write about listening and asking often because they are two of the most powerful tools a leader can use for strengthening work relationships; they are also underappreciated. Are they too simple? Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for pushback. But there are others worth exploring; especially in the realm of asking (inquiry) instead of telling.
Most leaders that I work with could insert more inquiry into their leadership style. Inquiry (or more appropriately, asking questions to coach others to come up with their own solutions) is a central skill set for helping others to develop.
I work almost exclusively with mid- to upper- management in organizations. These are the people who’ve had many years of experience managing others, which makes it even more puzzling that the skill of inquiry hasn’t been accepted and valued. Let’s see if we can respond the excuses leaders have for avoiding this skill. Is it possible you are resisting for the same reasons?
“Asking questions isn’t my style”. There is no reason why asking questions can’t be part of your style. Yes, it takes courage to do something different, and it’s hard at first, but gets easier with practice. What have you got to lose? Next time you have someone come into your office with a problem that they want to drop in your lap for solving, turn it around. Ask them:
What have you thought of so far?
What have you seen others do?
What do you think might work?
What are you willing to try?
“Asking takes longer than telling”. This is true. It takes time for people to come up with answers, and we need to be patient enough to let them think. Is it possible that, by asking and allowing your staff to come up with their own answers that they might learn something in the thought process? Is it possible that their answers might be more creative than anything you could come up with yourself?
“My staff doesn’t know enough to have the answers”. Oh boy, there are lots of responses to that. It takes a lot of courage to accept answers that aren’t yours. By asking, you are helping them to learn how to learn. If you aren’t asking, how do you know that they don’t know enough (wouldn’t it be great if you were surprised)?
“My employees want me to tell them the answers”. Sure, there might be some resistance as you change to incorporating more inquiry into your leadership style. Hang in there. Your best employees will appreciate the challenge of figuring stuff out and your less-than-best employees may never get it (and then you have a decision to make).
Hmmm…….I wonder if it’s a lack of courage that keeps you from asking (that’s a challenge, by the way)? What’s really keeping you from trying to incorporate more inquiry into your leadership?